The Stability of the Giant Clam Holobiont over Time and during Bleaching Stress

  • Melissa Pappas

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


The stability of marine photosymbiotic holobionts has major implications for the future of coral reef communities. This study aims to describe the stability of the Red Sea giant clam holobiont over the duration of one year and during induced bleaching stress under laboratory thermal manipulations. Tridacnid clams of the species Tridacna maxima were sampled at three reef locations near the central Saudi coast of the Red Sea. Associated Symbiodinium of Red Sea giant clams have previously been described to be part of only Clade A, which suggests a strong specificity in the clam-algal partnership, but specific types and potential shifting of types within this clade have not been examined for giant clams. The results from this study confirm that tridacnid symbiont types shift over time and the change between three A1 types suggests a biological and functional significance of two undescribed A1 Symbiodinium types. Experimental bleaching shows that Red Sea giant clams, although exposed to rather hot temperatures naturally, will bleach at 34°C after two weeks, and severely bleached clams likely will not recover. During bleaching, Symbiodinium types shift as well, and shift more drastically than seasonal shifts during the year. This shifting may be an evolved characteristic of the giant clam to aid in surviving major changes in the environment. However, more research is needed to determine if these holobionts are capable of keeping up with the global forecast of warming in reef environments.
Date of AwardDec 2017
Original languageEnglish (US)
Awarding Institution
  • Biological, Environmental Sciences and Engineering
SupervisorMichael Berumen (Supervisor)


  • Symbiosis
  • Giant clam
  • Bleaching
  • Symbiodinium
  • Thermal tolerance
  • Clade A

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